Outdoor music series begins Thursday

Nick Stroman

Starting this Thursday night, weekly live concerts are barely a five-minute drive away for most Morton families.

The Morton Fine Arts Association’s “Arts in the Park” summer series of free concerts starts Thursday at Idlewood Park in Morton and will be playing every Thursday for the next seven weeks.

One of the concert organizers, Phil Kuhl, said the funding for the summer shows comes from the profit they make on the fine arts association’s fall/winter concert series.

“When we’re booking the summer shows, we want it to be family entertainment everyone can enjoy and that’s really all we work from. You’d be surprised the number of good shows out there which are available now. Acts aren’t getting hired as quickly because the economy hurt them a bit,” Kuhl said.

This Thursday’s show will feature Carl Anderson and His New Orleans Jazz Band, a seven-piece group that combines traditional songs with showmanship like stage lights and fog machines.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy that one last year so we brought them back for opening night. They really had the crowd moving,” Kuhl said.

Kuhl said he expects a younger crowd for The West Macqueen Street Band on July 9 due to its “super high energy.”

The nine-piece band features five vocalists along with the horns of jazz and blues tunes.

“The third show is the one I’m personally excited about because we got the best banjo player in the world coming,” Kuhl said.

Morton will host Pumpkin Banjorama on July 16 featuring Buddy Wachter, Paul Erickson and Johnny Baier, three top world class banjoists who also played the Pumpkin Festival in 1996, 1998 and 2001.

“Buddy is from Baltimore and plays with symphonies and on Broadway. He is the main man. The three of them are also in town for the banjo convention going on in Peoria that week,” Kuhl said.

Applegate & Company will play the park July 23, a band which has a more than 30-year history of playing central Illinois music festivals, coffee houses, restaurants and private parties.

Fans of the Celtic music genre will enjoy Barry Cloyd and Celtricity on July 30, a jam band which combines acoustic style with Celtic and world music.

Country and western music is not to be left out of the lineup as Jukebox Saturday Night puts on two solid hours of Branson-style family fun on Aug. 6.

In keeping with their moniker, the group performs music by special request – just like a jukebox – from the 1940s on up.

Another band that performed in 2008 and proved popular enough for the park to host again is Jim Markum Swing Band.

The 10-piece band will close out the summer series on Aug. 13 with big band standards featuring the sounds of brass and saxophones on dance tunes and ballads.

Kuhl said a change for this year’s concerts is the association is trying to find a different church or organization to provide each night’s concessions.

“I think that will mix it up and provide a different experience each week for people who want to come to more than one of the concerts. The Boy Scouts will be out here doing their recycling every week as well and that’s a great help,” Kuhl said.

Kuhl said the Morton Fine Arts Association’s mission statement is “making Morton a better place to live,” and he truly believes the summer concert series accomplishes that mission.

“Last year, we had 600 to 700 people at each of the shows and this year, I’m confident we’ll go over 1,000 people. Everyone’s already talking about it now. It’s a night where you can come early and bring the kids, the baby strollers, your lawn chairs and blankets,” Kuhl said.

“I think people will be surprised at how exciting the concert series will be. It’s good and wholesome and lots better than a night of television,” Kuhl added with a laugh.

“Arts in the Park” runs July 2-Aug. 13 at Idlewood Park in Morton.

In case of rain, concerts will be at the Morton Education and Administration Auditorium at 1050 S. Fourth Ave.

Morton Fine Arts Association is also selling season tickets for its monthly fall/winter concert series, which starts in October.

For more information, call Kuhl at 266-7300, Susan Pyles at 696-7780 or visit www.mortonmagnet.com.